Obama, the Millennials’ President: Presidency and Media


You have probably heard of the Buzzfeed video featuring President Obama that was released Feb. 12. The president of the United States used a selfie stick, made funny faces in the mirror, and just goofed off like anyone would. He then promoted the deadline to sign up for health insurance (it was Feb. 15, in case you forgot).

While the video is entertaining, it is also a thinly veiled marketing push to millennials. While it can be kind of disconcerting to know that the video is just a marketing scheme to get youth to sign up for healthcare and some people are going so far as to call it a new form of propaganda, I personally do not think that is the case.

The fact is the youth vote was what gave Mr. Obama the presidency in 2008 and 2012. According to the Pew Research Center, Obama got 66 percent of the youth vote in 2008 and 67 percent in 2012. Despite such strong numbers during presidential election years, voter apathy is high, especially among those aged 18 to 24. The 2014 Congressional midterms saw the lowest voter turnout since the 1940’s. The group with the lowest numbers in that election cycle was the millennial population. Most students here on campus did not even know when the 2015 State of the Union was, much less took an hour out of their overloaded schedules to watch it.

Our generation cares about politics but we care about it only when it seems like the stakes are too high to risk being left out. We care about it when it is most convenient for us.

We also care about convenience and intimacy in the media we consume. According to some studies, YouTube stars that share their personal stories and open up space for conversations with their audiences are more popular among American teens than distant silver screen celebrities. Younger viewers are tuning out of CNN’s nightly broadcast and tuning in to Twitter and YouTube to get news, for better or for worse.

Why wouldn’t President Obama connect with his most influential constituency by using the media we consume the most?

This Buzzfeed video also does not represent the first time the president has gone the untraditional route to spread his message. Remember “Between Two Ferns” in 2014? Besides, who could forget the debacle that traditional news outlets raised when three prominent YouTubers got to interview the President in person after the 2015 State of The Union.

I think the Presidential Buzzfeed video represents an interesting transformation in the media scene, not White House propaganda. President Obama already uses government agencies to spread information, however, it is nowhere near as popular as private sector methods like Buzzfeed or the Post-State of The Union Google partnership. The Buzzfeed video featuring President Obama received over 30 million views in just two days. A typical weekly update video on The White House YouTube channel averages 20 to 30 thousand views.

A problematic media environment arises when the White House intentionally crushes other narratives to spread news. In 2013 the White House Correspondents’ Association and 37 other organizations submitted a letter to the White House press secretary to highlight the fact that the involved media organizations felt intentionally bypassed by government-associated press from documenting White House events. That is the closest the Obama administration has come to propaganda, not the Buzzfeed video.

If anything the Buzzfeed video is Obama’s “fireside chat” in the style of FDR. The video is an attempt to gain millennials’ attention about the state of the United States and our place in this country even as we are becoming more and more disengaged from traditional media. Yes, it is a silly video and yes Obama’s involvement with YouTube stars is pissing off traditional media behemoths. But that does not mean it is propaganda. It represents an attempt by the government to meet millennials, the future of the United States, where we stand.

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